Everybody in New Orleans has an opinion about where you should eat. Ask a dozen locals and you are likely to get a dozen different answers. Mention where you just had a great experience and they’ll probably say, “Well, that’s pretty good, but you really should have gone to . . .” This can make navigating the culinary options a trying task if you’re just in town for a visit, because your to-do list will always get longer before it gets shorter. That’s okay; no matter where in the city you find yourself, you’re guaranteed to have a memorable meal. Just don’t tell your driver about it on the way back to your hotel — unless you want an earful about this hidden gem where you should have eaten instead.
If you want to fall off the diet wagon, there are few places to tumble more gracefully than Elizabeth’s Restaurant (elizabethsrestaurantnola.com; 504-944-9272; 601 Gallier St.) in the Bywater. The ever-energetic corner eatery has a funky, homespun vibe and is decked out with plenty of colorful alterna-folk art from painter Dr. Bob. Chef Bryon Peck specializes in gut-busting comfort food with a Nawlins twist. A perfect example is his sweet and swiney praline bacon ($7) appetizer, which is even more decadent than it sounds. Other top-of-the-morning starters include boudin balls with Creole mustard dipping sauce ($7); fried green tomatoes with a classic rémoulade ($6); and calas ($5), the deep-fried balls of sweet rice. Mains are equally indulgent. Duck and sweet potato hash arrives on top a corn bread waffle ($12); cornmeal-covered fried oysters are ringed around poached eggs and hash browns doused with Hollandaise ($14), and a smoked salmon and brie grilled cheese is coroneted with a pair of over-medium eggs ($12). In the mood for something lunchy? Big burgers and hefty po’ boys are available ($11 to $14).
A few blocks south of the touristy hustle and bustle of Magazine Street, Domilise’s Po-Boy and Bar (domilisespoboys.com; 504-899-9126; 5240 Annunciation St.) is worth the detour. Perched on corner in the residential West Riverside neighborhood, the tiny no-frills, all-thrills local institution always seems to be hopping, so expect a wait. Grab a number on the counter next to the front door, then hover near the tables to see if you can score one. At the very least, you can grab an icy draft Abita ($3.50) from the bar. The sub-style sandos are huge, so a small will suffice for all but the most gluttonous diners. (The one benefit of going big is that you can do two fillings instead of one.) Po’ boys come packed with a variety of options, including hot, smoked sausage split down the middle ($8.50 to $10.50), fried oysters ($15 to $18), fried shrimp ($12 to $15) and fried catfish ($11.50 to $14.50). Served on puffy French bread, they’re dressed — if you like, and you should — with lettuce, tomato, mayo and Creole mustard. If that’s not enough, you can splash on Cristal hot sauce, Tabasco and ketchup.
Enjoy a new take on Old World traditions at Domenica (domenicarestaurant.com; 504-648-6020; 123 Baronne St.), a Neapolitan-inspired pizzeria and trattoria presided over by executive chef Michael Wilson inside the Roosevelt Hotel in the Central Business District. Veg-centric starters are a revelation. A full head of cauliflower ($18) is poached tender and finished in the oven until the tips of the florets begin to caramelize. It comes skewered with a steak knife to cut it up, then you slather on super-smooth, whipped Bulgarian feta — topped with Aleppo pepper — for a hit of heat. Flash-fried Tuscan kale ($14), dressed up with sweet Saba vinegar and lemon juice, is tossed with pine nuts, shaved shallots and cherry tomatoes. Pizzas ($13 to $20) are fired in an oven powered by pecan and oak woods with a gas assist, which creates charred bubbles on the edges while keeping the dough pleasantly pliable. There are plenty of pastas on hand as well, including seasonal specials and year-round favorites such as rigatoni with a spicy tomato sauce; ceppo lavished with braised rabbit and porcini ragout; and a hearty rectangle of porky lasagna that practically weeps bechamel sauce. The check arrives with complimentary, espresso-pepped, chocolate-chip-packed brutti ma buoni (ugly but good) cookies, which are addictive and alone worth the visit.